Tuesday, January 14, 2014

braised ox tail

Today I was talking about how excited I was to get home to my slow cooker full of oxtail, and a friend mentioned that she found oxtail quite intimidating. I totally understand - oxtail is pretty weird-looking, and thinking about eating...well...a tail...squicks some people out. Plus, I think many people worry that like other offal, oxtail needs to have a lot of stuff done to it in order to make it edible That's happily not the case, though! Oxtail is VERY beginner friendly - you can braise it in a slow cooker, on the stove-top or even in the oven with very little effort at all. 

When oxtail is braised or roasted, the connective tissue running through the meat and cartilage between the bones eventually melts down. All that collagen gives the meat a silky, luxurious texture and a wonderful boost of umami. Plus, the gelatin that results from the melted collagen is full of natural glutamates, which are essential for healing a leaky gut and keeping a NON-leaky gut healthy, among other things.

A bowl of yum.
If you Google "oxtail recipes", you'll see some very Italian recipes, some Chinese ones, Jamaican ones, and plenty of others if you want to dig. It's good with the meat shredded and served over mashed potatoes, noodles or polenta (if you eat those things), but it's also wonderful just scooped out of the slow cooker in stew fashion. I cooked these oxtails for about seven hours on a bed of leeks, onion, carrot and garlic, then blended up the softened veg with the braising liquid and used that for the stew base. Easily my favorite iteration of oxtail so far.

This recipe is Paleo and Whole30 compliant. Enjoy! 

Slow Cooker Oxtail Stew

2 pkgs oxtail (my pkgs were about 1.5lb each)
2 large leeks
1 medium white onion
2 medium carrots, chopped or shredded
2 tbsp tomato paste (I like Cento, because it has no added sugar or weird stuff)
4-6 cloves of garlic (or more, if you're a garlic fiend like me)
1 bay leaf
2 cups of beef stock (if you're not doing a W30, you could use red wine to great effect! Water also works just fine)
1 tbsp bacon fat
salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse oxtail segments and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt bacon fat. Once fat is melted, add oxtail segments and sear for a few minutes each side. You may need to work in batches - you don't want to crowd the meat in the pan too much because it will start to steam. 

2. While meat is searing, clean and chop the leeks, onion, carrot and garlic. Add all the veg to the slow cooker crock. Add in the tomato paste and give a stir to combine. 

3. When meat is seared, add the segments to the slow cooker, right on top of the veg. Using a little of your chosen cooking liquid, deglaze the pan you seared the meat in, being sure to scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom. 

4. Add the deglazed pan juices to the slow cooker along with the rest of the cooking liquid and the bay leaf. Set slow cooker to low, cover and allow to cook for 6-7 hours. Meat is done when it starts to fall off the bone / fall apart with gentle prodding.  I usually start checking mine at 5 hours...slow cookers vary!

5. When meat is cooked, use a slotted spoon to pull it out of the slow cooker. There will be some little round bones, about nickle- to quarter-sized - make sure you get them all out! This part can be a little painstaking, but it's worth it. Remove bay leaf and discard.

6. If you'd like, use a spoon to skim off some of the fat from the braising liquid (or use a fat separator thingy if you're fancy). If you've got plenty of time before you want to eat, the easiest way to do this is to put the liquid in the fridge or freezer for a little while to let the fat solidify, then just pop it off all in one layer. If you don't have time for that, just skimming with a spoon will do. Once you've got the liquid to your desired level of un-fattiness (technical term), spoon into a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender (this is what I do) to puree the cooked veg and braising liquid. You could even skip the blending and just eat the cooked veg as-is, but I like the texture of the puree.

7. Spoon desired amount of puree into serving bowls. Add chunks of oxtail meat - it should pretty much fall apart when you take it off the bones, but if it doesn't (or if you want it finer than chunks), you can always use two forks to shred it.